NYT: Online prices for medical services, including imaging, are more chaotic than helpful

On Jan. 1, U.S. hospitals began posting prices online for all services offered, including medical imaging, in compliance with a new Trump administration order intended to increase transparency for health care consumers. However, according to a recent article from The New York Times, the policy change is "turning into a fiasco.”  

The names of thousands services and prices are posted online in spreadsheets, but are “incomprehensible and unusable by patients” and consist of “a hodgepodge of numbers and technical medical terms” that vary in format for each hospital, according to the article.  

“This policy is a tiny step forward, but falls far short of what’s needed,” Jeanne Pinder, founder and chief executive of the consumer health research organization Clear Health Costs, told The New York Times. “The posted prices are fanciful, inflated, difficult to decode and inconsistent, so it’s hard to see how an average person would find them useful.” 

Consumers are having trouble calculating out-of-pocket costs easily because the prices listed on a hospital's “chargemaster”—list of medical goods, services and supplies—does not reflect what may be covered by health plans and insurance companies.  

According to the article, the price-disclosure requirement issued by the Department of Health and Human Services stems from one sentence in the Affordable Care Act:  

“Each hospital operating within the United States shall for each year establish (and update) and make public (in accordance with guidelines developed by the secretary) a list of the hospital’s standard charges for items and services provided by the hospital.”  

But the newly enacted law reflects how the Trump administration wanted to take a step further to promote transparency in health care based on the belief that health markets would work better if consumers had more information, according to the article.  

“We’ve updated our guidelines to specifically require hospitals to post price information on the internet in a machine-readable format,” Seema Verma, administrator of the CMS, told the Times last week. “This is a historic change from what’s been required in the past. This is about empowering patients.”  

Read the entire article below.